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    Learn Confidence: Moms Who Want to Return to Work

    Excerpted from
    Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work
    By Carol Fishman Cohen, Vivian Steir Rabin

    Choosing to take extended leave to raise children can make you feel particularly unfit for returning to the job market on several counts. First of all, the demands of full-time motherhood make it difficult for many women to keep up with developments in their fields, as well as with their old colleagues. And while technology has enhanced communication, the flip side of technological advancement is that you can become dated very quickly. And this can kill your confidence. Add to this the speed of change in most industries and many women begin to feel completely professionally disconnected within a relatively short time period.

    Second, those taking a number of years off are rendered suspect in the eyes of others. "Will she really put her nose to the grindstone after being at home?" Simply giving birth can make people question your postpartum abilities. Katherine Ellison, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent and author of The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, related in an interview, "I got a new editor after my second son was born who let me know that he thought I was going to be less productive and that I wouldn't be able to keep my mind in two places at once. He was wrong, of course, but his distrust shook my confidence for a while." There's no question that, try as we might to ignore what other people think, most of us can't help being swayed at least a little bit by the feedback we receive from others, both solicited and unsolicited. And you'll probably find yourself most vulnerable to comments from others when you're first trying to relaunch.

    Third, caring for children, while offering many rewards and demanding imagination and creativity, does not provide the same kind of intellectual challenge that many careers offer. Once you settle into the softer world of child care, you often lose the sharpness of mind that enabled you to do quick mental math, design an office building, whip out a marketing plan, make a difficult diagnosis, or write computer code. How do you regain that edge? Can you?

    Finally, women's tendency to denigrate themselves in this situation epitomizes a problem women have when they hit career road-blocks of any kind. Patricia Chang, a sociology professor at Boston College, noticed in research comparing clergymen and -women that women tended to speak about career disappointments in personal terms whereas men tended to blame supervisors or other institutional systems. If it's true that women tend to internalize career disappointment whereas men externalize the cause of their work problems, then women may have less confidence when approaching the next step in their careers and may be more apt to sell themselves short.

    Selling Yourself Short-Literally

    In addition to undermining your ability to compete for a job, lack of confidence can also manifest itself in not negotiating for a higher salary or underpricing your services. In Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever make the case that women (unlike men) tend not to ask for higher starting salaries, higher raises, and better opportunities.4 Charlene, a brand manager who relaunched as a marketing consultant, experienced this firsthand: "I think the lack of confidence affects me in other ways. In pay, for example. I noticed that another consultant got paid much more than I did on a project. I think if I had marketed myself better, I could have charged more. I was just grateful to get the work. One working friend of mine said, 'Charlene, you sound like you think they're doing you a favor. You've got to believe that you're doing them a favor.'" Not only did we speak to women who discovered they were charging much lower hourly consulting rates than their male counterparts for the same services, but the women were quicker to discount their rates for a special circumstance. Their lack of confidence led them to question their worth.

    Expert Advice

    For help in addressing this confidence gap, we sought out Michele Phillips, an authority in the field of self-esteem and peak performance, and the director of Key Seminars, a corporate training company based outside of New York City. Additionally, she is a trainer at the Westchester, New York-based Women's Enterprise Development Center, Inc., and is certified by Jack Canfield (of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame) in peak performance training.

    Michele advocates a four-pronged approach to boosting your confidence. Most important, and something especially difficult for women, is to understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. According to Michele, Confidence is being the best you can be. Arrogance is claiming you are better than everybody else. Women sometimes confuse the two and feel uncomfortable working to make themselves more confident because they think they will be viewed as arrogant. Others desperately want to become more confident, but have trouble figuring out how to take concrete steps to make it happen. If you fall into either category, start by following Michele's suggestions:

    Take 100 percent responsibility for your reaction to life's events. Most of the time, you can't control the events you experience, but you can control your reaction to them. A key Canfield principle is E (event) + R (reaction) = O (outcome). You can train yourself to have a different response to events than you have had in the past.

    Discipline your mind. Cancel your membership to the I-did-awful club. Negative self-talk is one of the factors leading to low self-esteem. Replace negative self-talk with affirmations of yourself and your abilities. Repeat them, write them down, and post them where you'll see them often so they become your mantra.

    Michele's personal affirmations are: "I am radiant. I am in demand. I am courageous. I am a money magnet. I am unstoppable." Even when she has a failure, she picks herself up by focusing on her mantra. She still has times when she loses her confidence, but she bounces back a lot quicker than she did before she adopted this approach. She admitted that it may sound corny to develop these positive statements about yourself and then post them so you can remember them all the time. But it has worked for her personally (and she didn't think she had self-esteem issues to begin with!), and she has seen it work for hundreds of others.

    Give your mind high-quality "nutrition." Pay attention to what you read, what you watch on TV, and what you listen to on the radio. Improve the quality of these inputs whenever possible. In addition, surround yourself with winners-with people who you want to become or be like. This doesn't mean only people who are accomplished in material ways, but also those with an approach to life or moral values consistent with yours or worth emulating.

    Make time to appreciate your accomplishments. Keep a weekly or monthly "victory log." Write whatever you want in it, but be sure to include a list of accomplishments and goals you have met for the week or the month.

    Mommy Dividends

    In addition to these tactics, revel in the wisdom you've gained from parenting. In If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything, Ann Crittenden convincingly argued that good management skills are almost synonymous with good parenting skills. Based on interviews with dozens of professionally successful yet tuned-in parents (mostly mothers), she identified "four categories of transferable skills" that involved mothers (and fathers) have developed that "cross over and enrich their professional lives." They are: multitasking, interpersonal skills, growing human capabilities, and habits of integrity.7 Katherine Ellison, in The Mommy Brain, described how motherhood enhances brain power in the areas of improved perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation, and emotional intelligence.

    Bottom line: Although your quantitative skills may have slipped while at home with the kids, you've probably grown in other important ways. You'll handle a disgruntled colleague much more easily than you might have in the past. You'll probably be able to keep more balls in the air than you did pre-baby. The problem is, you can't necessarily describe this growth on your resume or in a job interview. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, nor that its invisible. Rest assured that, like the aroma of a good home-cooked meal, your "mommy wisdom" will eventually seep out and attract others.

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